Pauline Delgado was born to be a mom. She had three children of her own, Robert, Jennifer and Stephanie, and became a kind of surrogate mom to all her kids’ friends.
“All our friends would come to her for comfort,” her daughter Stephanie Ortiz said. “They always said she’s like a second mom to me."
The love they felt for her was never more important than when her family found out Pauline had tested positive for coronavirus.
“She started having symptoms on March 20,” her daughter said. “She had a fever. By the 23rd, she’d developed a really bad cough and started coughing up blood. She had a lot of difficulty breathing.”
She went to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, where she waited in the emergency room all day and all night. There were no beds available. She was finally admitted on the March 24, but went rapidly downhill.
Delgado was put on an incubator, then a ventilator. But she didn’t survive. In the early morning hours of April 1, the hospital called to tell her family she was gone. She was just four days shy of her 69th birthday.
“We were in shock,” her daughter said. “One week we were speaking to her, and she was fine. But her health declined so rapidly, just nine days in the hospital.”
Like so many coronavirus patients and their loved ones, time spent in the hospital was painful for Pauline Delgado and her family, with no in-person visits and no chance to hold hands.
“We would call in, and we could hear the nurses racing back and forth,” Ortiz said. “Everything was an emergency, everything had to be done quickly. Sometimes she would reach out to us with her phone and say she needed help. A lot of times we would call in and were freaking out, telling the nurses she’s saying she can’t breathe.”
It was a heartbreaking time as Delgado tried to reach out her family by FaceTime.
“She wasn’t able to talk,” her daughter said. “She was gasping every time she said a word, just one word, like help. Or she would make a gesture. We had to hold a straight face to tell her everything was gonna be OK. I knew she was scared. She was trying to hold back tears but you could see the tears coming down her face. The last thing she was able to get out was when she was FaceTiming with my father. He said before they put her to sleep on the ventilator she wanted us to know she loved us.”
Her loved ones weren’t able to see Delgado, even after she died, which led to more confusion for a family already in so much pain.
“We were having trouble contacting funeral homes that would take her,” Ortiz said. “A lot were refusing to do burials. When we finally found one that could pick her up, we contacted the morgue. But she wasn’t there. Bodies had to be removed in a week. They ended up sending her to Hart Island.”
When they finally got her body back, they were only able to identify her by her medical bracelet and her ring. Her daughter says it was a terrible way to say goodbye to a mom who filled their lives with love.
“If you ever had the distinct pleasure of meeting Pauline, you would have noticed immediately just how genuine and caring she was," her daugther said. "She was truly the glue for her family. We are now scrambling to pick up all the pieces she left behind with this tragedy.”
Pauline Delgado was born in East Harlem. She and her older sisters, Celia and Jenny, and younger brother, John, were raised by their mom and her aunt after their father died. Pauline was just nine years old. A few years later, her mom passed away as well.
She met the love of her life, Thomas, in a Bronx club in the ‘70s.
“He told me he was actually trying to hit on her friend,” Ortiz said. "When that didn’t work out, he danced with mom.”
It wasn’t an easy life, according to Ortiz.
“Dad drove a cab," she said. "Mom had a rough time. She had my brother when she was 19, and she didn’t finish school. She took any job she could.”
But, no matter how hard things got, her children always came first.
“She would give us her food," Ortiz said. "And we never knew it until we got older. She could be starving and she would give us her last plate and say, ‘oh, this was for you’. Dad was not always able to be there for us, but mom blocked us from seeing things that were bad. She did whatever she could. I will always hold onto that because I knew there were moments when she was fighting depression because of everything going on, but she put it aside and was there for us. With everything falling on her shoulders she never let us see what she was going through.”
Her generosity didn’t stop with her family.
“She was living in Woodside, and she was receiving federal aid,” her daughter said. “Even with that she managed to do so much. If someone needed a place to stay she was that person they came to. I always admired that about her. She didn’t have, but she gave back to those in her situation.”
And the people Pauline Delgado helped showed their appreciation when COVID-19 took her life.
“The love many people shared for her is truly a testament to her character,“ Ortiz said. "It is also a testament to how bright of a light she was and still is to the lives of many, especially her family and friends. We had to come up with money to bury her and it had to be so quick, so we were anxious. We did a GoFundMe and set our goal at $6,000. In less than a day we raised $13,000. The amount of love she had, we didn’t really know. A lot of people said, ‘she was there for me in hard times, like my mom’. Some friends told me they loved her more than their own mother. To see that, we were so in awe.”
Now, the family that loved her so much finds comfort where they can.
“My mom was never big on celebrating her birthday, which was on April 5, because her mom passed away on her birthday,” Ortiz said. “We would try to do things for her birthday and she would take it, but she always said she wanted to spend her birthday with her mom. Now she gets to celebrate her birthday with her mother. We tell ourselves that she’s finally with her mother and that helps us.”
Stephanie Ortiz wants the world to know that her mom was a fighter and a survivor who faced whatever life brought her, “head on, with full force and resiliency.”
“We want people to remember her as this loving compassionate person who could be rough around the edges,” Ortiz said. "She was known for being someone you couldn’t mess with. But she was also a loving, caring, nurturing person who would be there if you needed her to be. She was there for me so that I was able to finish school and to help me when it came to caring for my son, Anthony, who has autism. She had seven grandchildren, and she loved them more than anything. Her strength is what’s helping me be there for my son and not fall apart. My mom was my rock, my everything. Unfortunately for us, unfortunately for the world, she was no match for COVID-19."